2020 US Presidential Race: The Biggest Betting Event of All Time?

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Trump Card to Fuel a Billion-Dollar Coin Flip

Sport Acuity’s betting industry expert Tom Millard takes a closer look at the November 2020 Presidential Election - an event that could be the biggest betting event of all time.

By Tom Millard

According to recent polling, the United States of America is anything but united. You either see President Donald Trump as a staunch defender of your values against the liberal tide, or as a stain on the fabric of the country, one which must be removed in the election of November 2020.

The polarisation of the country that solidified under Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, has reached new heights. More than eight in 10 Republicans report in the American Values Survey as having a favourable opinion of Trump; by contrast almost nine in ten Democrats have an unfavourable opinion of the president, including 79% who hold a very unfavourable view. So it's fair to say the stakes have never been higher for millions of Americans.

2020 US Presidential Election: Why is betting interest so high?

Enter stage left the liberalisation of US gambling laws. Until June 2018, Nevada had a near-monopoly on sports betting. Since then, several other states have legislated to accept wagers. By the time autumn 2020 rolls around punters in a majority of states should have access to a sportsbook with a political betting offering.

This means the money staked on the next presidential election has the potential to dwarf any previous single betting event. Nearly US$300m changed hands in 2016 on Betfair's 'Next President' market alone, which is still an all-time record for the betting exchange. So when factoring in industry growth and adding bookmakers’ stakes, US$1bn would be a conservative estimate for total trades on the 2020 election.

Interest in the event is already off the scale as far as ordinary voters are concerned. The proportion of respondents to a Fox News poll in May who declared themselves "extremely interested" in the next election was 57 per cent - not only nearly double the number at this stage of the last presidential cycle, but more than the number on the eve of the last election.

Republicans or Democrats? Latest odds for the 2020 US Presidential Election

The betting itself is in coin-flip territory with Republicans and Democrats priced at 10/11 the pair to be the winning party. Trump himself is a best price of evens with UK bookies to be the next president, with four of his Democratic challengers’ single figures.

Those prices reflect the tightness of the fight in the blue half of the draw to take on the incumbent next November. Obama's former VP Joe Biden has had a consistent lead in the opinion polls for the Democratic nomination but voting does not take place until February and polling at this stage has a mixed record for predicting the eventual nominee.

Biden has drifted to 11/4 second favourite to win the Democratic nomination as Massachussetts senator Elizabeth Warren has been creeping up in the primary polls and has edged into favouritism at 2/1. California senator Kamala Harris and veteran Vermont senator Bernie Sanders are both around the 6/1 mark to become the nominee.

Key states in the 2020 US Presidential Election

In addition, the electoral college system used to elect the president currently works in the Republicans' favour because Democrats' support is concentrated in populous states such as California and New York. Clinton won the nationwide vote by 2.9 million in 2016 but took California alone by 3.3 million; by contrast Trump carried Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a combined total of 77,000 votes, taking the 46 electoral college votes that tipped the election his way.

It is likely that 2020 will again see the electoral system having the effect of over-weighting the importance of these three states, which between them have a higher-than-average population of white rural voters without a college education - traditionally demographics favourable to Trump and the Republicans.

So expect plenty of attention from the nominees and the media on that trio of states in the coming months as the race crystallises into head-to-head battlegrounds. Expect the unprecedented level of interest in the election to translate to a record voter turnout. And expect the betting industry to have turned over more than a billion dollars once the result is confirmed on the morning of November 4, 2020.